By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Clean and sober, Earle has released seven albums in seven years, authored a collection of short stories called Doghouse Roses, and co-founded the BroadAxe Theater, a company in Nashville that recently produced Karla, a play he wrote about executed Texan Karla Fay Tucker; he also played the part of a recovering addict on HBO's The Wire. He's been an activist on behalf of the international campaign to ban land mines, as well as in the case of the West Memphis 3, for Vietnam vets and against the death penalty. His music has been uniformly excellent, but Jerusalem is his finest work since Copperhead Road. Using the disputed capital of Israel as a metaphor for the human race, and taking on HMOs, the prison-industrial complex, Wall Street, conspiracy theories, drugs and maquiladoras, he rose to the challenge of making a topical album with unforgettable melodies and scrunchy guitars.
LAST SUMMER, TWO MONTHS PRIOR TO JERUSALEM's release, neo-book-burners had hissy fits when they heard about one of the album's cuts, "John Walker's Blues," an empathic but hardly laudatory re-creation of what may have been going through the deluded head of American Taliban John Walker Lindh. In their confusion of art and advocacy, nattering nabobs accused Earle of being "the Jane Fonda of the war on terrorism" and claimed that "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat" (the latter headline from the entertainingly pea-brained New York Post). "No intelligent person didn't understand that I was just singing in character," says Earle. "All I was trying to do was humanize him."
Earle's death-penalty activism led to correspondence with death-row inmates and witnessing the 1998 execution of one of his pen pals, convicted murderer Jonathan Nobles. When asked about the experience, he looks weary. "I can't describe it in detail, because I don't have the energy to do it anymore. It was very surreal. I was really surprised at the empathy that I had for the people that participated in the execution. It was obvious to me that they were being harmed, too. My main objection to the death penalty isn't about trying to save anybody on death row. If this is a democracy and the government kills somebody, then I'm killing somebody. I object to the damage it does to my spirit."
Earle's spirit tells him to defy expectations. "I believe everything Karl Marx said about economics; I just happen to believe in God." That's not a statement you'll hear from many Americans, much less one raised in Schertz, Texas. One of Earle's nuggets is "I Ain't Ever Satisfied," written when he was in his early 30s; it's the quintessential malcontent's anthem. Is the nearing-50 renaissance rebel satisfied yet?
"No. I'm just not as hard on myself. I don't expect to be able to apply revolutionary ideas to the democratic process in the United States. But I demand — because the Constitution says I may demand — that I am allowed to be a radical and to participate in the process as a radical. I'm not a liberal. I'm a radical."